First time asking here so I don't know the ethos yet of how liberal or strick this site is on the particulars.

In spending my day programming in Prolog I often hit a wall sometimes and stop coding on a section for a few minutes to a few days because the code is not flowing off the finger tips or the mind doesn't have the solution mapped out to the end.

Lately I am starting to see one pattern emerge (there are many more but this question is just about this one) that causes me to stop and that is that I can't keep all of the concepts in my head while coding.

If you have ever seen the show where a person is given a 5 second image of a chess board and asked to lay out the pieces on a different board from memory then you know that an average person is limited by their short term memory. But if the pieces are in the movements from a real game, a chess expert can typically remember all of the pieces on the board since they view the board different than an average person, but if the pieces are just random the expert has the same success rate of reproducing the board as an average person.

The same thing seems to be happening when I am coding a highly recursive set of predicates that have many state variables, as long as the concepts are familiar I can handle some very complex routines, but if my limit is exceeded or the solutions is not familiar then I step back because I know that my subconscious will work on the problem and typically give me one or more clear directions to take.

So the question is:

Are their any research papers that show that the conscious mind will get frustrated by certain problems because of the limit of short-term memory but that the subconscious mind will persist on a problem till solved?


Why I don't view this as a duplicate of:

How is it that taking a break from a problem sometimes allows you to figure out the answer?

I view that question as

  1. The OP is looking for a term to describe the phenomenon. e.g. the tag terminology.
  2. The OP says the answer will suddenly come to them because they stopped.

My question is adding an additional (exact) condition that I am stopping because I have exceeded the limit of my conscious memory (short term memory if you chose) and so can't concentrate on it any more as something has to be taken from the short term memory to add something. However the subconscious is able to deal with the problem because it has absorbed all of the concepts that don't fit into short term memory and can continue to work on the problem. It may find and answer or a reason it can not be answered.


Appears I need more specifics on why I think my question stands apart from the noted possible duplicate.

Since you asked here we go:

Other question:

If I am stuck on a particular problem in my work, often if I stop thinking about the problem and do something else, the answer will suddenly come to me.

My question:

I know why I am stopping, I have used up my ability to hold concepts in conscious memory, the other person is just stuck and they don't know why.

My question does not put a time frame of when the result arrives.

Quote from other question

You can either focus on one thing or another, you can't focus on two or three things at the same time.

My question

I am focused on one thing also so this is similar.

Other quote

Because consciousness is very limited in what it can do; unconsciousness is much broader.

My question

That statement can be taken as a truism that applies to both questions.

My question is pointing out a specific difference, namely that the subconscious has access to more concepts at once than the limited short term memory of conscious memory. Granted the conscious has access to other concepts in long term memory, but these types of problems have so many new concepts that need to be accessed as the same time, that conscious memory can not access them all when first seeing the problem.

Other quote

you keep on focusing at it, you may get stuck.

My question

Same as previously said:

I know why I am stuck and therefore stopping, I have used up my ability to hold concepts in conscious memory, the other person is just stuck and they don't know why.

Other quote

Taking a break, taking a shower, going for a walk, playing golf, you come back refreshed.

My question

Similar in that one has to move the task out of the conscious, but my questions doesn't require being refreshed to get the result from the subconscious. In my question it is not being refreshed that gets a result for the subconscious, the subconscious will give back a result when it finds one, be it a short time or many years.

Other quote

And often doing the other activity, boom, the idea will come to you.

My question

The other question via the quote suggest that you must go through a refreshing activity to get an idea. My question is saying that because the subconscious can hold more concepts it can find a result because it can access more concepts at once than conscious memory.

My question does not require or suggest that the result arrives in the manner of a boom, nor does it rule it out.

I don't think there is much more dissection I can do here.

  • $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of How is it that taking a break from a problem sometimes allows you to figure out the answer?. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Feb 26, 2020 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ @ArnonWeinberg Possible duplicate? See edit in question explaining what I don't consider it a duplciate. $\endgroup$
    – Guy Coder
    Feb 26, 2020 at 21:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @GuyCoder I don't see the distinction you are making, you seem to be reiterating what the linked question is asking. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 26, 2020 at 21:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause I have been using StackOveflow for years and have a very thick skin. I find mosquitoes more of a concern. Thanks for being polite; I won't run away. $\endgroup$
    – Guy Coder
    Feb 26, 2020 at 21:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think there are many research papers that show that, when the conscious mind is unable to solve a problem, the subconscious mind will persist on the problem. The following are some of them (you may have read them already?), and I hope you can find more references from them too. (I don’t put this as answer because I’m not an expert on this and think my response’s too short and light to be an answer. Just want to share you some references I have.) $\endgroup$
    – user287279
    Feb 27, 2020 at 5:01


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